Valencia grad Alejandro “Alex” Sangines begins his workdays by putting on a familiar outfit: The blue suit worn by NBC pages, complete with the NBC logo tie.
But 10 years ago, when he was working as a dishwasher, he never have imagined that he would one day land in Hollywood.
His journey, however, is a story of pluck and luck.
It began thousands of miles from Los Angeles, in a Dallas suburb, where Alex was working as a dishwasher. Because there was an acting school in the mall where he worked, he started taking acting and improvisation classes. It didn’t take long for Alex to realize that he needed a college degree to chase his dreams. When Valencia accepted him into its international students program, he packed his bags and moved to Orlando.
Alex started at Valencia by studying English for Academic Purposes. There, he studied with Valencia professor Karen Murray. “He was really a go-getter and did a terrific job in speech class. He was a real performer,” says Murray. “When I made the announcement that Valencia was having a speech competition, I encouraged my EAP students to enter, even though they would be competing with native English speakers — and he ended up placing in the contest. I think he won a couple hundred dollars, which was not nearly as important as just doing it.”
He went to school part-time and juggled several jobs, washing dishes at restaurants and working as an office aide at Valencia. After earning his A.A. degree at Valencia, Alex transferred to Rollins College’s Hamilton Holt School. And while there, he landed an internship at Orlando TV station WKMG. His first role was as a production intern, working behind the scenes. His job, during newscasts, was to stand on the set where evening anchor Gaard Swanson was working and step in to fix any technical problems, in the event that something went wrong on set.
“But nothing ever happened. So I would just stand there, watching the news,” Alex says. “There aren’t any cameramen in there anymore. The whole show is operated from the control room. There were just two people on the set – me and him.”
After a few weeks, Swanson asked Alex what he wanted to do after college. When Alex said he thought he might like doing TV news, Swanson showed him how to read from the teleprompter. “I did it maybe seven times. And he said, ‘You’re a natural; you belong in news.’ “
Swanson quickly became Alex’s mentor. And even after the TV anchor left WKMG and headed to Seattle, he continued to be a mentor for Alex. Swanson also gave him this inspiration: “He said, ‘You have presence. You need to find a way to get to Telemundo or Univision. There you will meet people and network and learn.’ “
That sounds easy, but after graduating from Rollins, Alex spent months applying for jobs. But he got nothing. Just as he had since he came to the United States, he worked as a dishwasher to pay his bills.
After a while, he was feeling distraught – and wondering if he’d gone to college only to remain a dishwasher. However, he’d found an online application for the NBC page program and submitted his application.
“From the moment I was at the TV station, I went on the Internet, and looked for companies that would hire people with limited experience to get broadcast experience,” Alex says. “I applied everywhere: In the U.S., Europe, Mexico. Finally I came across the page program.”
The description fit him perfectly: It’s designed for college graduates who have had one or two internships in news or entertainment and have an understanding of news reporting, entertainment or movie finance. Alex also sent along clips of a travel show he’d created — short travel videos he’d produced in San Francisco, New York and Savannah.
He was thrilled – and somewhat astounded – when he learned he’d been selected for a panel interview in California. But he had to study for the interviews. NBC sent him and other page finalists links with historical information about the company and the page program and expects them to be well-versed on the material when they arrive for the interview.
“I prepared for my presentation for two months,” says Alex. “You have two minutes to sell yourself, to tell them why you’re the best candidate for the page program.”
The interview process lasts for an entire afternoon. “You have one-on-one interviews, you do presentations in front of other panelists and other candidates and you meet former pages,” says Alex. Past pages describe the interview process as nerve-wracking.
Selection is highly competitive, with only 212 pages selected a year out of over 16,000 applicants. It is harder to become an NBC Page, allegedly, than it is to get into Harvard.
“It’s very competitive, very hard to get in,” says Alex, “but I think my internship helped me a lot.”
Alex thinks that being bilingual gave him an edge – as did his age. At 37, he may be one of the oldest pages ever selected. He is, he says, not your average page. But he may be the face of future pages. NBC has revamped the page program recently – and wants pages to reflect the real world.
“Most pages are in their 20s. And NBC is trying very hard to figure out how to appeal to the Millennials. I am between generations… I can go back and forth between generations, from one awareness to another,” he says.
During a one-year period, NBC pages work in different NBC departments and the program is used as a training ground for careers in television broadcasting and entertainment. Assignments vary. Pages regularly get to work on such programs as The Tonight Show and Saturday Night Live. Pages also rotate through assignments in public relations, marketing, development, and production in a variety of shows and special projects. In addition to their work schedule, they take classes throughout their 12-month experience, learning how to pitch projects, how to manage a project and the art of negotiation.
Alex is currently working in NBC’s human resources department and helping decide which applicants are NBC material. Coming up, he’ll get to help out at a week-long seminar for the network’s vice presidents. AT those events, he’ll get to have his picture taken with each vice president and will be given the chance to get a business card and tell each vice president a little about himself.
The schmoozing is part of the job.
Many pages go on to careers with NBC or other broadcast media and a number have become household names.
Former pages include Disney CEO Michael Eisner, ABC News journalist Ted Koppel, comedienne Joan Rivers, actor Bruce Willis, TV host Regis Philbin, former Today show personality and weatherman Willard Scott, and Paul Pennolino, associate director of the “Daily Show” with Jon Stewart.
Alex’s success comes as no surprise to Valencia’s Karen Murray.
“What makes Alex stand out is his charisma,” she said. “He really does have a drive to do well and exceed what the people around him are doing.”
As for Alex, he’s grateful to his professors and instructors at Valencia College and Rollins College for their insistence that students think critically.
“Valencia and Rollins both gave me a strong foundation and taught me how to think,” says Alex. “Now when I’m in meetings with directors or executives, I remember the training I got in college: Come prepared to class. Read the work ahead of time, go prepared. Take notes and listen. Don’t jump to conclusions. Listen, think about what you’re going to say and contribute. That kind of education totally prepared me to be here.”
Now, after he completes his 12-month page experience, he hopes to mentor other Valencia students who want to become NBC pages.